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  1. #1
    Part-time epistemologist invisiblehand's Avatar
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    S&S Couplers versus Folding Bikes

    Hi everyone, I wanted to get some opinions on traveling bikes. At the moment, it looks like the two alternatives are (1) fit my Nova with S&S Couplers or (2) buy a folding bike (say a Bike Friday). What are other peoples' experiences with either the couplers or folding bikes?

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    I use a 61 c-t frame and the frame that I had coupled (S&S), has canti brakes. This gets to be a bit much for packing into the hardshell case. It can be done, but there is no room for a rack or fenders. I had to dismount the crankarms and the rear der. and brake arms. In other words, the assembly/disassembly process is a bit more than the usual. You will need some place to store the case on arrival. On the other hand, the bike is totally unaffected by the addition of the couplers.....no handling difference whatsoever. I do not have any bike Friday experience so I cannot compare the two. The couplers do allow a "partial dissassembly" where you kind of fold the bike in two for trains. S&S tells owners to check the couplers daily...mine never loosened.

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    For a one-off trip, there is also the option of just paying what it costs to take a regular bike.

    S&S couplers, and Bike Friday, are two products almost no one seems to have a bad thing to say about, so I think you are really back to square one deciding what format appeals the most to you. There is a really lumpy continuum from a bicycle that can only have the handle bars reversed right through to bikes that can be folded at will in seconds. You get all kinds of rideability options along that continuum.

    The Bike Friday is pretty much at the point where you have a bike that folds well (though not all configurations suitcase pack), and yet rides well. But if you are going to be on and off buses and trains all the time, even the BF is a slow slog, and folded as small as it gets, it's a partial rebuild. In comparison. imagine how you would feel if every time you wanted to ride a bike you had to fix a flat tire.

    Brompton is probably where folding gets easy while allowing a diminished but none the less useable level of touring ability.

    You just have to figure it out for yourself, what kinds of ride do you need, what terrain, and how much folding ability, how often. There are many options available out there beyond the several mentioned.

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    People tend to be a "bit" defensive about their individual choices. Criticizing either the BF or S&S can start quite the flame war. From first hand experience, I can say that full packing an S&S machine is not the ten minute operation that most owners seem to claim. I used 700c A719 rims and 32 wide tires. Deflated, they BARELY make it into the case. The end result is, pretty much bomb-proof, however. I know that some of the BF allow use of the case as a trailer. For my part, I cannot tolerate small wheels or trailers....just my choice, no value judgement implied. S&S plus case are really expensive. If you travel internationally exclusively, then maybe just a soft case that can be rolled up on arrival, would suffice. I travel with friends that use the nashbar and performance soft cases without damage so far....

  5. #5
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    I have a Bilenky bike with S & S Couplers, It's a bear to tear down and pack up, then reassemble. I think a trip to Europe would warrant a breakdown but definitely not a quick weekend trip. The wheels and tires (700x23) just barely fit side to side in the travel case when deflated.

    A bike set up with racks would be tough. I have my bike set up with a handlebar bag that I can carry-on. If I wanted more packing space I'd add a carradice bag on back. But for loaded touring or anything morew than credit card touring I couldn't see it working easily unless you want to deal with removing the the racks.

    I bought my bike used but remember that a retro-fit along with the cost of the travel case is expensive.

  6. #6
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    My Rivendell All Rounder has 26" wheels and is a 59 cm size. It fills the case. I do have room for fenders and racks but it takes some work.
    It takes me about 60 minutes to pack the bike and about 45 to unpack and assemble.
    That's a guess, I've never really timed it. I've allways done something during the process, watch TV, take a meal break etc. Don't work striaght through.
    I agree with the prior postings by S & S owners, I wouldn't pack/unpack the bike for a weekend trip.
    I'm happy with the setup, but wish the packing/unpacking went faster.
    Regards,
    Lee
    http://bikerlee.home.comcast.net/

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    I have an S&S coupled road bike and have also taken a Bike Friday tandem on two weeklong trips. Both work great. The S&S bike rides exactly like it did before I added the couplers. It cost around $700 for the couplers, paint, padding, and case. I take my S&S bike on almost every vacation trip and think I've gotten my money's worth. I find it takes just as much time to pack and unpack as the BF. It comes down to personal choice. See if you can try out a BF to see if you like it and compare to your regualr bike. You also need to know S&S won't fit every frame - it won't work on aluminum or oval tubes. It is less expensive when installed as the frame is built.

    Mike

  8. #8
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    I should clarify my last statement - S&S couplers can't be retrofit to aluminum bu tcan be factory installed.

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    With S&S, how long does it take to just uncouple the frame couplers?

    From the pictures, it looks like that would "break" the bike in two, which alone might be helpful. For example, might fit in a subcompact hatchback. Or if you just uncoupled the bike and quick-released the wheels, you'd have a fairly small pile of bicycle, right?

    From what people are saying, it sounds like the problem with S&S is fitting it into the smallest possible case. I see why you'd need to do that for airplane travel, but maybe not for bus or train?

    Thanks for all the informative posts, I'm particularly consider the couplers though I'm impressed with the foldings bikes too.

  10. #10
    Senior Member kesroberts's Avatar
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    I used to have a bike friday AirGlide. It was great for about everything except for loaded touring, so I ended up selling it to buy a touring bike. I am about to get S&S couplers retrofit to 2 bikes by Bilenky. Serious bucks, but I think it will be worth it.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Krink
    With S&S, how long does it take to just uncouple the frame couplers?

    From the pictures, it looks like that would "break" the bike in two, which alone might be helpful. For example, might fit in a subcompact hatchback. Or if you just uncoupled the bike and quick-released the wheels, you'd have a fairly small pile of bicycle, right?

    From what people are saying, it sounds like the problem with S&S is fitting it into the smallest possible case. I see why you'd need to do that for airplane travel, but maybe not for bus or train?

    Thanks for all the informative posts, I'm particularly consider the couplers though I'm impressed with the foldings bikes too.
    It takes about 5 minutes with my bike. 2 couplers to disconnect and 2 derailleur cables and 1 brake cable to disconnect.
    Regards,
    Lee

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    Quote Originally Posted by bikerlee
    It takes about 5 minutes with my bike. 2 couplers to disconnect and 2 derailleur cables and 1 brake cable to disconnect.
    Five minutes sounds pretty good to break down to where you can bum a ride in a car with no rack.

  13. #13
    Senior Member kesroberts's Avatar
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    Does anyone have experience with flying with the S & S backpack case?

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    What do you do with the case once at the destination? Locker? throw it in a cab?

  15. #15
    Senior Member Bolo Grubb's Avatar
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    some of the most honest sounding reviews I have ever heard.

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    The trips that I have been on used storage at the first hotel for the flight cases....I use S&S hard case and a duffle for my rack/pannier and luggage...the duffle folds up and goes into the hard case for storage.....This requires that we take a loop and return to the first hotel...I would expect that you could send your case ahead by bus in most countries if you are not doing a loop. If I were camping most of the time, I would still prefer starting and ending the tour in a hotel to clean up for travel...hotels should be able to stash your cases. If I were doing S&S again, I would do what bikerlee has done and go with a smaller wheel to get a better pack in the case. 700c wheels are stretching the point, I feel. The TSA needs to get the pack out of the case for US travel so wedging everything in there is not a good idea. I can also say that quill stems and bar ends on a 46cm noodle are a bit much to try to pack!!!!

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    We've flown to Europe twice with the S & S tandem, and I flew to Italy with my S & S single.
    For the single I use the backpack case. For the tandem, the backpack and 1 hard case.
    At home, I've carried the tandem in the back of our Honda CR-V by uncoupling the front section (tandem is coupled into 3 sections). It wouldn't fit without breaking it down.
    I've followed the recomendations of others, spend first and last night at the same hotel. They have allways allowed me to leave baggage and case with them.
    I had my wife send the backpack case to a hotel at the end of my cross the USA ride. It was expensive, $35-40 using the USPS. They guarranteed delivery in a short time span.
    They were a day or 2 late and refunded the delivery charge. That worked out well, I had allowed extra days and hadn't arrived myself.
    The airlines have never given me a problem when I point out that I've meeting the size requirements they quote on their website.
    They are getting picky about overweight. United Airlines now considers 50 pounds max without overweight fees.
    Twice I've taken things from an overweight case to get down to 50 pounds.
    Regards,
    Lee

  18. #18
    Bike touring webrarian
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    My S&S experience

    A bit more than 2 years ago I decided to move from bike riding to bike touring. I also wanted to get the best equipment I could. After some research, I decided on a Waterford T1900 (Adventurecycle), a steel touring bike. I had them factory install S&S couplers, as I planned to tour to places requiring a plane ride.

    As others have said, the bike rides normally when the couplers are coupled and, it takes a short period of time to uncouple the bike. I'd estimate 10 minutes both ways, as I like to remove the wheels when I uncouple as I am usually putting the bike in a car truk (just returned from a bike ride in Big Sur after driving to Carmel with the bike in the trunk).

    However, to pack the bike in the hard packing case for a flight, is a whole other story. I have packed the bike in the case about half a dozen times. The first time I tried it, it took me 4 hours! That was mostly due to not knowing exactly what had to come off the frame to fit it into the box. I later realized that the geometry of a touring bike is enough different from a road bike that much more has to be taken off to get the bike into the box. The third time I packed the box, I took pictures of each significant step so I could have a cheat sheet the next time.

    Since I now know what has to be taken apart to get the whole bike into the box, I can do the packing in about 90 minutes. I doubt I could get it much below that. I haven't yet found a way to get my Mavic rims into the box without taking off the tires! This isn't a problem, just more work on both ends. I also have to take the fork and handle bar off and shoehorn them in.

    For me, the packing case only fits the bike. I have to take another large case to hold the two racks, water bottles, bags, tools, and some clothing.

    I have flown with the bike to England and was worried about getting the bike through the security checks without someone taking the bike out of the case (they'd never get it back in). When I got the bike in England, it had clearly been opened but not taken out. The airlines accepted the case without any problems and it arrived undamaged.

    One thing to note is that uncoupling and disassembling a bike causes lots of little dings in the paint job. Waterford's have a beautiful finish. Mine is pitted and scratched in so many places that I don't even consider the paint job nice anymore. I am constantly using Q-tips and touch-up paint to prevent the steel from rusting.

    I have always been able to leave my bike box somewhere and pick it up on the way back. If I were doing, say a crosscountry and flying to my first stop, I'd likely ship the bike back UPS. I have left it at a hotel then picked it up on the way home. It is not something that you can take with you on a bike. Something has to be done with it.

    Ray

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    Assembly and disassembly don't need to damage the paint. S&S sells padding that attaches with velcro. Once I cut it to length and labeled the pieces, it only takes a few minutes to install and is very effective.

    I use a hard case so it needs storing if going on a tour.

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    Just a weird question here... how easy/difficult is it to lock a bike with S&S or a folding bike?

  21. #21
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    Locking a coupled bike

    First, when the bike is coupled, it is just a regular bike. Unless, someone noticed the couplers and could unscrew them (virtually impossible without a custom wrench), in which case, s/he could likely make off with some part of the bike, but not all of it. Personally, I can't imagine someone unscrewing the couplers and would never worry about it.

    When the bike is uncoupled, there is only one way to lock the front part and that is around the head tube. You can still insert a lock or cable in the rear "triangle." However, the front part has no enclosed triangle to secure.

    As for the dings, I have found that a) there aren't enough velcroed covers to cushion every part of the bike, b) I have to manipulate the bike parts a great deal and dings just happen, and c) there are too many ways for an uncoupled bike to get dinged. Maybe you simply are more careful than I am. Oh well.

  22. #22
    Senior Member kesroberts's Avatar
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    Thanks for the info. So far, I haven't heard any horror stories about using the backpack case, though it obviously isn't as much protection as the hard case. I think I am going to get the backpack so that I can fold it up and take it with me when touring if I have to.

  23. #23
    Professional Fuss-Budget Bacciagalupe's Avatar
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    I hope no one minds a n00b weighing in here....

    I picked up a Dahon Mariner (which is one of the low-end models) last fall to do some short tours, and it worked out very well for me so far -- I use it as my regular ride now. The handling on a 20" wheeled bike takes a little getting used to, and the smaller wheels make for a bumpier ride. Tearing it down and reassembling for flight is fairly easy; my bike mech skills are pretty limited, and even so it only took half an hour or so. Folding is incredibly convenient, as you can take the bike on some trains without paying that extra 7.50 euro fee, take it into bars and hotels, and of course it's a total conversation piece.

    The cons of folding bikes, as far as I can tell, is that they don't handle or ride like a 26" or 700c bike; it can be harder to get repair parts when traveling; panniers can be a bit too low (depending on the rack); lower-end models don't have a lot of gears. If you are looking for road-bike geometry and gearing, you probably have to go with a higher-end model like a Bike Friday or a Moulton.

    Magictofu: locking a folder is the same as a regular bike. Many times you won't even need to lock it though, you just collapse it and take it with you.


    Quote Originally Posted by kesroberts
    I used to have a bike friday AirGlide. It was great for about everything except for loaded touring, so I ended up selling it to buy a touring bike. I am about to get S&S couplers retrofit to 2 bikes by Bilenky. Serious bucks, but I think it will be worth it.
    At the risk of derailing the thread -- I'm actually considering moving from the Dahon to a BF Air for light (credit card) touring. What didn't work for you about the AirGlide?

  24. #24
    Senior Member kesroberts's Avatar
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    At the risk of derailing the thread -- I'm actually considering moving from the Dahon to a BF Air for light (credit card) touring. What didn't work for you about the AirGlide?[/QUOTE]

    The problem I had came from the fact that the AirGlide desing doen't have a rear triangle like a big bike or like many folding bikes. This made the whole rear end very flexy once you put a rack and panniers on it. I also used it with a Bob trailer and had the sme problem. In both cases the flex in the rear just didn't feel right and wasn't acceptable. I think that the solution would be to use a two wheel trailer like the BF trialer or a burly so that there's no lateral load on the rear. The other BF models like the NWT may be fine for touring, though. Otherwise the AirGlide was a great bike and I really enjoyed riding it unloaded. I visited Bike Friday in Eugene a couple of years ago and mentioned all this to one of the guys and he agreed with me. I really don't understand why they continue to market this one as a loaded touring bike.

  25. #25
    More Energy than Sense aroundoz's Avatar
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    I just had the same dilemna. I came really close to buying a BF but ended up buying a Thorn Nomad w/ BTCs. I don't know yet if I made the correct choice. The price for the frame is the same as the comple BF would have cost. If I would have purchased the BF, I would now have 2 bikes instead of one. From what I was reading it appeared that packing a BF would take the same amount of time as packing a bike w/ BTC's. Since I also read that a BF was not a good folder, I opted for the couplings. The Nomad has 26" wheels and a compact geometry so hoping getting it in a case won't be too much of a problem. While researching, I did read someone elses post. This person had several folders and one coupled bike. He used the folders for work when he traveled: trips that lasted about a week or so, and used the coupled bike for his month long trips. I hat dings and scratches but sounds like I better get used to it. Good luck w/ your choice.

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